5 Key Differences Between Mentoring and Coaching

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When we hear the word “mentoring”, we may relate it to some activities that we usually see in coaching events. However, mentoring and coaching are essentially different concepts that aim to have very different type of impacts on people, despite the fact that they often use the same type of approach and skills.

Since it may be hard to know when we are talking about mentoring or coaching, in this article, Suzzanne Uhland will talk about five key differences between mentoring and coaching that can help readers have a better understanding of both concepts and decide which one could work better for its company.

  1. Orientation

Mentoring focuses on relationships. This means that it aims to allow the mentee to know itself in order to help it feel safe within any given environment. Mentoring is oriented to specific goals related to personal skills and goals, such as having a more balanced life, building self- confidence, improving self- perception or understanding how the personal life can affect an individual in its working environment.

On the other hand, coaching focuses on the task. It is a great way for people to identify what they are lacking and work hard to improve it. This way coaching can help people become more efficient, thinking strategically, or giving more accurate information to others. In this sense, the coach’s job is to teach the coachee how to build up or improve a set of skills in order to take care of specific tasks in a better way.

  1. Short Term Vs. Long Term

Mentoring is understood as a long-term relationship between the mentor, the mentee and their context. It requires that all the involved parties can learn about each other because this will help them improve their environment and create bonds of trust between one another. To mentoring it is highly important for all the parties to feel safe, this is why building a good mentoring relationship can take up to a year to be built.

On the contrary, coaching cares about taking place for as long as it is needed. Usually, it is divided into a set of sessions that take place in a short period of time. The success of a coach is measured by its impact in a short period of time. It is important to keep in mind that everything depends on the kind of issue that is being addressed by the coach and the relationship between it and its coachee.

  1. Development Vs. Performance

Mentoring is interested in the individual’s development. This means that aims to have a deep impact on the way the person is structured. This impact should last for long period of time, affecting the future of the mentee in a positive way. This characteristic helps to improve the relationship between the manager and the employee who is being mentored because roles are defined in a better way and have a purpose in time.

Coaching, on the other side, aims to improve the coachee’s performance. This means that it is focused on the way things are being done today. Its main goal is to improve the individual’s current skills. When these skills are correctly improved, the coach’s job is over.

Related: What Can Mentoring Do For Me And My Career?

  1. Required Design

Mentoring is tailor-made. It requires the implementation of a design phase where a strategic purpose can be drawn. As it focuses on relationships, the used model may vary from one individual to another. Plus, not every mentor is meant to meet every mentee. Thanks to this, a matching process is also required.

As coaching about any matter can be conducted right away, it doesn’t require a design. This is why coaching events can take place anywhere at any time and include large groups of people at the same time. In a way, the only design coaching needs take place when identifying which area is going to be treated and the level of expertise that is needed in order to have the right tools to have an impact on the coachees.

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  1. Immediate Manager

Mentoring immediate manager is indirectly involved with the mentoring process. Most of the times the manager has little to do with the mentoring experience. It gives a freeway to the mentor so it can build a relationship with the mentee. However, when it is required, the manager may suggest some matches and give a few recommendations during the process.

The way coaching works require the manager to work hand-in-hand with the coachee. This happens because the manager is the one who is supposed to give both the coach and the coachee feedback on their results. This way, specific problems related to particular tasks can be addressed. The coach needs the manager’s input to know how the coaching process is evolving and the things that could be improved about it.

The 5 Most Important Ways Mentoring And Coaching Differ

Mentoring is one of the most powerful personal development and empowerment tools available to guide people to progress in their paths of personal and professional growth. More than simply being a guided instruction, mentoring is a partnership between mentor and protégé who work in a similar field or share related life experiences in order to develop solutions to career related issues and challenges aided by a helpful relationship based upon mutual trust and respect.

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Coaching is defined as “a process that enables learning and development to occur and thus performance to improve. To be a successful a Coach requires a knowledge and understanding of process as well as the variety of styles, skills and techniques that are appropriate to the context in which the coaching takes place”. Coaching takes an approach of focusing on helping the “coachee” discover answers for themselves and figure things out on his own.

Mentoring and coaching both have many benefits, such as facilitating the explorations of needs, motivations, skills, desires, thoughts and ideas to aid individuals into making fruitful changes or guiding them in a specific direction to make the most out of their potential. Ultimately this is what all of it is about, enhancing the knowledge, skills and abilities of people so that they can increase their success in performing the tasks in which they are being coached or mentored in.

Many people find both of these terms to be interchangeable, but there are a few key differences that set both of these practices apart from each other. Here can see some of the main differentiations between coaching and mentoring:

Tasks versus relationship.

Coaching is more of a task-oriented activity. The guidance is geared towards rectifying or enforcing a particular skill such as effective speaking, learning to make more strategic decisions or deciding a better direction in a career path. These processes of course, requires an expert who is able to teach the coachee, how to best harness these skills.

While coaching takes this task specific approach, mentoring goes about it in the opposite manner. Mentoring focuses more on building a relationship to provide the mentee with a safe environment where he or she is able to share concern for the issues that may affect his personal and professional success. It is common to set specific goals and benchmarks in order to gain motivation looking at particular tasks to be achieved, but this is simply part of the bigger picture and doesn’t stop there. Creating a relationship includes things such as work/life balance, self-confidence, self-perception, and how the personal influences the professional.  


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Length of the intervention.

Coaching for the most part has a short-term approach. The coach only stays with the coachee for as long as is necessary in order to achieve the purpose of the intervention. This may take a few sessions, but it will most likely be a short-term relationship.

Mentoring on the other hand, requires time to be spent building a relationship between both parties so they can learn about one another and thus form an environment of trust in which the mentee can feel safe to disclose the real issues that influence their achievements. An average mentoring relationship can last about nine months to a full year.

Performance and development.

Coaching’s purpose is to enhance and improve an individual’s performance on their particular occupation. This process involves either improving on existing skills or acquiring news ones. Once this is accomplished, the coach is no longer needed.

Mentoring is actually development driven. The purpose of this approach is to prepare the individual beyond their current job and into their future as a person and as a professional.

The design process or lack thereof.

Coaching can be conducted starting almost immediately and requires no prior design required. Obviously there are instances in which some design is necessary, especially when the coaching is supposed to be give to a large group of individuals. Regardless of this, the effort that goes into choosing methods of approach is relatively short.

Meanwhile, mentoring requires of a relatively lengthy design phase. It is important to identify key areas to improve upon in order to make the most of the relationship. A carefully crafted design phase is instrumental in the success of the mentoring process.

Experience of the guide and management involvement.

When coaching is involved, the immediate managers of the coachee play an important role in the process. Feedback is usually shared and utilized in order to guide the coaching process. Coaches don’t always have direct experience of their coachee’s formal occupational role, unless the coaching is very specific and skill-driven.

Mentoring occurs outside of the manager’s jurisdiction so to speak. Their suggestions may be offered and accepted when going through the matching process, but do not communicate at all with mentors during the mentoring relationship. Sometimes, mentors are senior individuals in the organization who can pass on knowledge, experience and open doors to otherwise difficult to obtain opportunities.